Yesterday, aboard the Liberal Express, we got several glimpses into Michael Ignatieff's feelings about the media.
There were, first of all, these comments, about his personal feelings toward the arts, CBC and the Canada Council. Essentially, Ignatieff told the crowd in Kingston that his personal past is all tied up in these institutions, so they could all be reassured of his allegiance if he becomes prime minister.
But there was another, more provocative question posed to Ignatieff yesterday as well, about how Liberals could try to regain favour with the national media. Given that my own newspaper has delivered a bit of a kick to him this morning, Ignatieff's answer is probably worth noting:
There are representatives of the national media here. I say that for a reason. It’s a waste of time in politics to blame the messenger. It is a waste of time to try to manipulate the messenger. These guys have got a job to do. ... (CTV national reporter) Roger Smith is five feet away from me here and he’s got a job to do. And we welcome him here and he can report any darn way he wants. And if I get it wrong, it’s my problem, not his problem. So let’s get out of the Harper mindset, which is: we’ve got to control this, we’ve got to spin this, we’ve got to manipulate this, we’ve got to keep them 45 miles away, we’ve got to set up a roster of which questions get asked and which can’t get asked. If the bus breaks down, we don’t tell them some story. We try to get a replacement bus and try to get them on the bus as soon as possible. And we did. I don’t know any other way to do it, other than ‘what you see is what you get’. And you go to Canadians and you make your pitch.
Later on last evening, on the patio of the Holiday Inn in Peterborough, Ignatieff and his wife Zsuzsanna convened a dinner of reporters travelling with him. I was there, along with the National Post's John Ivison, Sun Media's Brian Lilley, The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson and Matthew Pearson from the Ottawa Citizen. The talk was pretty much the same kind any folks would have over dinner -- movies, books, sports and travel were the main subjects. Scotland figured heavily into the discussions, funnily enough, because three of us have direct roots there (Ivison had just returned from a visit to his homeland) and Ignatieff's daughter has just graduated from the University of Edinburgh. Other than that, no great state secrets were revealed. If it's true that an exit strategy from politics is being contemplated, as my paper is reporting, Ignatieff gave absolutely no hint of that over dinner with the media.
Oh, and before anyone is tempted to start carping about cozy dinners between reporters and Liberal politicians, I should note that Stephen Harper also had many social contacts with the media before he became prime minister and continues to invite reporters over for garden parties and Christmas gatherings. If memory serves, I believe I was at a small dinner party at Harper's house only a couple of months before the 2005-06 election.